Nigeria's Top Muslim Leader Vows to Counter Christian Evangelism

The spiritual leader of Nigeria's 70 million Muslims has vowed to counter the rise of Christian evangelism in the country with the message of Islam.

Islamic leader Alhaji Saad Abubakar III, who holds the title of the Sultan of Sokoto, said the spread of Christianity in the West African nation has made it urgent for the Islamic body to respond with Muslim evangelism, according to the Nigeria-based newspaper Daily Champion.

"The rise of secularism and the increasing activities of western evangelical organizations have made it all the more urgent that the message of Islam shall be heard loud and clear," he said earlier this week.

The sultan called on the Muslim group Jama'atu Nasil Islam (JNI), which he is president general of, to establish a Muslim evangelism agency and take advantage of media technology to "respond to these challenges."

Abubakar, although not a religious leader himself, acts as a representative of the region's Muslims on important issues. He is also someone Nigerian Muslims look to for leadership and guidance.

Political leaders at the meeting, though encouraging Muslims to spread Islam, warned that extremists could misinterpret the sultan's message and destabilize the country. Other political leaders called for moderation and inter-religious dialogue during the spread of Islam.

Elsewhere in the country, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Christian ministry, Evangelism Through Sports Ministry (ETS), announced this week of its plan to host a national U-16 soccer tournament slated for later this year. The "CAN National Unity Cup" will feature teams from 16 states of the federation with the aim to preach the good news of the Gospel through sports, according to the Nigerian newspaper This Day.

"We plan to have standby counselors during the U-16 competition, to minister to players and spectators," said ETS director Tobiloba Onifade, according to This Daily. "We've done it at smaller levels and it worked, so we believe it would work on the national level.

Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa with its 140 million people nearly evenly divided between Christians in the south and Muslims in the north, with members of both religions living where the other faith is dominant.

Sectarian tension between Muslims and Christians has long been a problem in Nigeria.

Earlier this year, in March, a Christian teacher was killed by an angry mob of Muslim students who accused her of desecrating the Koran in northern Nigeria. Nigerian media described her murder as "gruesome," reporting that she was brutally beaten to death and then set on fire by students.

The teacher reportedly suspected a student of cheating and tossed books, one of which was the Koran, out of the classroom. The teacher did not know the Koran was among the pile of books.

Nigeria has a record of at least 15,000 deaths due to religious, communal or political violence since democracy was restored in 1999, according to BBC.

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